As an Asian Indian, I was one of the few dark-skinned individuals in the city of Ho Chi Minh. Many times, as I would walk along the streets to get food or wait outside for a taxi to take me to lecture, I would feel the stares of the locals riding by on motorbikes. Even during my actual internship, where I taught underprivileged and displaced students at a local development center, I sometimes felt like an outsider. As I worked alongside three other Michigan undergraduates, who all happened to be white, I was constantly asked by the students, and even the other Vietnamese teachers and volunteers, whether or not I was American, or where I was “really from.” When I told them that my parents were originally from India, there would be a moment of realization, and from that point forward they would call me Indian rather than American. It seemed that many of the locals who I interacted with during my time there had a perception that all Americans were white.

Even more generally, I recognized an overall attitude of curiosity among the people there. Many of the students were in wonderment of my and the other volunteers’ facial and body hair. Sometimes after class, as the kids were running out of the classroom, they would brush their hands all over our faces and arms, feeling our hair. During one of our lectures, our professor—who was also white—mentioned that he experienced similar situations in the past, where other grown Vietnamese adults would reach out and feel his chest hair in the middle of a conversation.

I was never offended or irritated by how any of the locals acted, however. They had never seen someone who looked like me or some of the other volunteers, and they were simply exploring their curiosity. When I go to India on travel and to visit family, I am able to witness the same situation as an insider— I see all the white, Black, and Chinese travelers get gawked at by the locals as they stare at “something” they have never seen. In Vietnam, it was interesting to experience this as an outsider as it really made me more aware of the demographic diversity that is taken for granted back home.